Thursday, January 24, 2008

TJF, Strangers in a Strange Land

Strangers in a Strange Land

The least depressing conclusion I draw from all the coverage of Britney, Lindsay, OJ, and now Heath is that elections mean nothing. People who care who the next American Idol will be or who will win Dancing with the Stars could not be trusted to elect the board members of the Parks Department, much less the temporary dictator of an empire of 300 million people. One small detail. We Americans laugh at the people of India and Pakistan who choose party leaders on the strength of their last names, and then a significant number of us run out to vote for George W. Bush or Hilary Clinton. Benazir Bhutto may be as crooked as Hilary Clinton, but she spoke far better English and was a fine-looking woman, which makes her superior to every female I know in American politics. And, while on this low topic, what man would not follow a pretty air hostess like Sonia Gandhi? Good looks, charm, and an impressive demeanor have always played a part in human affairs, but here in America even our screen idols are monkey-faced women and epicene males. To restore the republic, we should have to undertake a massive program of disenfranchisement, beginning with people who work for or receive benefits from government, moving on to unmarried women, and finishing off with anyone who has seen three films starring Heath Ledger or Brad Pitt.

Celebrity eats up reality, the TV and film cameras suck out the souls, both of the actors and of the watchers who live through the actors. George Garret’s brilliant book, Poison Pen, may be the single most important commentary on the people we have become. It is not easy to get a hold of–and uses language not suitable for women and children–but it is horrifyingly true. In any kind of republic or democracy, the electorate must consist of people in touch with everyday reality. The wonderful thing about pop culture is that it alienates a majority of people from reality, persuading them that the criminal class consists of middle-class white males, and that brain surgeons and nuclear physicists and judges are, typically, people played by Will Smith and Samuel L. Jackson. In a free society, stereotypes and prejudices are somewhat false conclusions drawn from experience; in the servile state, the stereotypes are almost always the opposite of reality.

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